Dome will get another £53m but wants more

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The Independent Online

The operators of the Millennium Dome are to plead for another loan of lottery money to help the attraction survive until they get a share of the proceeds from the sale to the Japanese-backed consortium Nomura.

The operators of the Millennium Dome are to plead for another loan of lottery money to help the attraction survive until they get a share of the proceeds from the sale to the Japanese-backed consortium Nomura.

The New Millennium Experience Company learnt yesterday it will get an extra £53m later in the year as part of the deal to sell the Dome to Nomura - which plans to build a hi-tech amusement park on the site.

But Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, the NMEC's chief executive, admitted last night that he plans to ask the Millennium Commission for a "bridging loan" to cover the Dome's day-to-day running costs until it receives the money from the sale.

This disclosure raises doubts over his previous guarantees that no extra lottery money would be needed. However, Mr Gerbeau said: "It has always been part of the plan. We're using the receipts money as it was predicted in the original business plan."

The loan will be the third emergency payment from lottery funds by the commission this year, after it handed over £60m in February and £29m in May.

Archie Norman, shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, greeted news of the extra loan with disbelief. "It is now clear that the Dome is insolvent and being bailed out through a back-door deal for which the taxpayer will foot the bill," he said.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the minister for the Dome, said the project was "a hugely innovative" enterprise, which had generated 5,000 jobs inside the Dome and 6,000 in thesurrounding area. "It is a project which will be a model for future regeneration schemes," he told the House of Lords.

Commission sources later stressed that the NMEC would be expected to repay in full any extra money it received, as well as saving a proportion of the £53m from the sale to repay at least part of the previous grants.

News of the extra loan emerged after Lord Falconer confirmed it would be sold to Dome Europe, owned by the Nomura Corporation and backed by Hyper Entertainment, a division of Sony, for more than £105m. The company will take ownership on 1 January 2001.

Guy Hands, of Nomura, said £800m will be spent building an "urban entertainments resort", including hotels, shops, restaurants and a convention centre at the south London site. Within three to four years, it would attract 6 million visitors a year.

Mr Hands denied the Dome would be dumbed down. He said: "We want to provide something for everyone. It's like a smorgasbord - when you have a good smorgasbord you choose what you eat, you don't mix it together and make baby food."

Lord Falconer indicated that roughly £45m of that £105m will go to English Partnerships, the regeneration agency that owns the Greenwich peninsula. A further 7.5 per cent of the sale proceeds goes to British Gas, its previous owner.

The Government's decision was met with disappointment by Legacy Plc, the rival bid run by Robert Bourne, a property developer and Labour Party backer. It had bid £125m, but ministers believed its plan for a hi-tech business park was too risky. Legacy claimed ministers had "copped out" by choosing Dome Europe's "safer option".

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